Klay Thompson

Kerr thanks Klay, understands why Warriors icon decided to leave

NBC Universal, Inc.

LAS VEGAS – Steve Kerr’s current main responsibility is ensuring a historically stacked group of superstars for Team USA Men’s Basketball gets the job done at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics and brings home the gold.

The Warriors’ coach also isn’t oblivious to one of the NBA's biggest stories right now, with Klay Thompson moving on to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency. Before Kerr even fielded questions Saturday from the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on the opening day of Team USA training camp, he took the time to first thank Thompson for his iconic career in a Warriors jersey. 

“I just want to say thank you to Klay Thompson for 13 incredible years, 10 of which I was there for," Kerr began. "What he did for the team, the organization, the Bay Area, for me personally – the relationship that we have, all the incredible success, but more importantly just going through it all together has been so meaningful and so amazing. 

“We’re going to miss Klay. We wish him the best. These things rarely go like you want where you get to draw it up and execute it and everybody goes out together. We were hoping that could happen, but it didn’t and we wish Klay well. 

“We love him and we’ll miss him. Klay, if you’re watching this, thank you for everything.”

Thompson was 24 years old entering his fourth season as a Warrior when Kerr replaced Mark Jackson as his head coach. Kerr was 49 at the time and was embarking on his first experience as a coach in any capacity. The Southern California natives, who have an affinity for the beach, were perfect for each other. 

Expanding on the brilliance of a backcourt that featured the greatest shooters of all time – Thompson and Steph Curry – the former Warriors shooting guard instantly became an All-Star in Kerr’s first year as head coach. They also won their first title together in that 2014-15 season, beginning a run of five straight trips to the NBA Finals and getting fitted for three rings. 

That 2014-15 season was Thompson’s first as an All-Star, too. He earned the honor five years in a row, was named All-NBA his first two seasons being coached by Kerr and was named to the All-Defensive team in 2018-19.

All the emotions of Thompson turning the page and beginning a new chapter hasn’t fully hit Kerr yet. The two talked throughout Thompson’s decision, and Kerr says he received a “really good description” of the now 34-year-old’s mindset into what he felt was best for him at this stage of his career. After playing three years at Washington State, the only basketball home Thompson has known is in the Bay Area at Oakland’s Oracle Arena and San Francisco’s Chase Center. 

The playing career Kerr lived included six different cities serving as his NBA home: Phoenix, Cleveland, Orlando, Chicago, San Antonio and Portland. Change can be necessary, even required for some. Of course Kerr wanted nothing more than Thompson’s road to be a straight shot to the Hall of Fame. 

It’s taking a detour in Dallas, though it won’t affect his standing in the heart of his longest-tenured coach. 

“I completely understand,” Kerr said. “Sometimes in life, we all need a shift. Just a fresh start, whatever it is. No matter what profession you’re in, sometimes you just need a change, and I think that’s it. That’s the easiest way to describe why Klay is leaving. … It’ll be really weird on media day when he’s not there.” 

Dealing with two leg injuries – a torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals and a torn Achilles in November 2020 – took a heartbreaking toll on Thompson. The last couple years have been a mental and physical fight that Thompson could have never imagined. How could he have? 

He was sent to the bench for the first time under Kerr last season, replaced by a rookie Brandin Podziemski. As Thompson's body and game changed, so did his role on the Warriors. He felt disrespected, despite the Warriors offering him a contract last offseason that was $2 million less than what he signed with the Mavericks for, and more than $7 million per season compared to his new contract. 

What might feel like bad blood from an intense divorce between player and front office doesn’t come close to the love Kerr always will have for Thompson, and vice versa. They went through the glory days together, and felt the deep pain of Thompson being sidelined for two-plus years of his prime, before celebrating once more as champions the year the Splash Brother made his return to the court.

And a few tears likely trickled down as the two discussed Thompson’s departure. 

“It’s never easy when these things begin to run out, but the biggest thing is the relationships endure,” Kerr said. “The memories endure. Klay’s going to have a statue outside at Chase someday. He’ll be beloved by his teammates and coaches and our fans forever.

“It’s never easy, but I think it’ll all work out for everyone.”

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